The Australian Open finally commenced on Monday after a three-week postponement and several dramas that surrounded the quarantine of players.
Like other sectors of life, sporting activities have been negatively affected by COVID-19 that has forced organisers to reduce the number of fans, totally ban fans from attending or suspend competitions.
Among tennis stars that we’re welcomed by the torrent of fans at the Melbourne Park to kickstart the competition are Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams.
Spectators were mandated to wear a facemask indoors at the event, but many millings around outside were also seen with face coverings.
The Australian Open organizers expect up to 400,000 fans to attend the tournament this year in a socially distanced manner, around half the number that was at last year’s competition.
“It’s quite phenomenal it’s actually happening,” said Australia’s Pat Cash, a two-time runner-up in the Australian Open men’s singles, who now coaches China’s, Qiang Wang.
The Australian Government played a vital role in bringing spectators together at the Melbourne Park by swiftly responding to the laid down protocols of COVID-19 and quickly closing its borders in March at the start of the pandemic, banning non-residents from entering the country, and put in place mandatory hotel quarantine of 14 days for incoming travellers.
Unlike other Western nations including the United States and the United Kingdom that have a daily infection rate of about 1,000, Australia has gone weeks at a time without a single locally-transmitted COVID-19.
However, a quarantine hotel worker in Melbourne tested positive for the virus on Sunday, Victoria State’s Health Department said in a statement.
The individual worked at the Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport, but the department did not indicate whether the quarantine hotel was connected to any of the Australian Open players or staff.
Director and CEO of the Burnet Institute medical research group, Brendan Crabb, said Australia’s action would showcase the benefit of close to zero COVID-19 infections.
“This is huge, I don’t mean for Australia, I mean for the philosophy of Covid zero. This is a very sound way to live, it’s sound for health, it’s sound for your economy and it’s also sound to limit the number of mutant viruses.
“So you’ve got this showcase event demonstrating to the world how valuable COVID zero is. I think it’s mind-blowing it’s potential.”
Craig Tiley, CEO of Tennis Australia, described his team’s efforts to put on the event as “Herculean.”
“We had to bring in 1,000 people from over 100 countries around the world on 17 charter flights from different cities into Melbourne, and quarantine that number of people for 14 days and then every single day, the athletes, enabling them to get outside of the room for five hours,” he said.
In a bid to reduce the risk of infection, Tiley disclosed that the exchange of cash within the premises of the competition is banned as every activities and marketing has been digitalised.